Last spring, when I received an offer for a two-year professional opportunity in Northern Ireland, I tried to consider all the right things: family, career, finances, and...the upcoming Emerald Isle Classic to be played in Dublin, a two-hour train ride south of Belfast.
Of course the game wasn't the only reason I accepted the offer (thought it didn't hurt!), but I did and transplanted my life to a different continent. The whole ticket-finding process for this contest was frustrating, as there didn't seem to be many available and the people who found them tended to be people with either a lot of money or some sort of insider track.
But a couple weeks ago, I found my inside track when I met a 34-year old American and huge football fan from a place you may have heard of called College Station, Pennsylvania. He plays for an American football team over here; believe it or not, such a thing exists. Best I can tell, it seems fairly common over here for adults to continue playing regular competitive sports without any real hopes of making money off it. And when these teams find someone who's under 40, looks somewhat athletic, and calls himself an American, they move in like hawks on prey.
After my suitor found out I was a Notre Dame fan, he used yesterday's game as part of his recruiting pitch. It was a pitch I gladly received, so yesterday I took that train ride into Ireland (my potential teammates, dressed in an array of NFL jerseys, informed me that I was technically an illegal immigrant once I left Northern Ireland) to partake in the festivities with tourists, football fans, and locals alike. Predictably, on the half-hour walk from the train station to the stadium, we stopped in to a pub "for a pint" of Guinness.
Aviva Stadium is a new and beautiful, glass-like soccer stadium right off a canal. In my opinion, it worked perfectly as a venue. My ticket--which I paid 40 pounds (or "quid") for--proved to be the best seat I've ever had for a college football game: first row in one of the end zones. I couldn't believe it. The Navy band planted themselves to my immediate left. (I'm so glad I didn't bite on those 200-pound offerings on Stub Hub!).
As for the game itself, you all know the details. It was basically what I expected: a blowout (50-10) by Notre Dame. Everett Golson looked sharp at quarterback but didn't expose much. Manti T'eo and Stephon Tuitt were beasts on defense. The offensive line was dominant. George Atkinson III and even punt returner Davonte Neal showed some real burst with the football in hand.
Meanwhile, the field goal unit showcased all sorts of problems, and the corners looked real suspect, but then again I doubt they prepared much against the pass for Navy.
As always, interactions between the two teams were very respectful, and fans not used to college football games in Dublin every weekend stayed long after the game got out of hand.
I'm hoping for more of the same next week against Purdue. Now I just need to figure out how to watch Notre Dame games from here!